What is Ludum Dare?
Ludum Dare is a game-making competition which occurs three times a year. The competition is split into two pieces; a compo and a jam.
Compo: The compo lasts 48 hours starting 2am Friday morning and finishing at 2am Monday morning. Each game can only be made by one person, and absolutely everything included in the game must be made within that 48 hours.
Jam: The jam lasts 72 hours starting at the same time but finishing Tuesday morning at 2am. Each game can be made by an individual or a team, and some assets can be created before hand (within reason). It’s basically a more relaxed version of the comp.
As this was my first real attempt at creating a game, I went with the jam. I still set out to create everything myself within the given time however.
In this blog post I will be looking back at what I did during the game jam to create my first-ever game – how I made my decisions, how I created the game, which programs I used, what I did right, what I did terribly wrong, and what I’ve learned.
As stated in a previous entry, I decided to stay up until the theme was announced at 2am. This way I could jot down a few ideas, then rest for the night to let my subconscious do a little bit of the work. The theme was announced – ’10 seconds’. I recorded some initial ideas in a text document, which I updated in the morning (shown below, updates in blue:)
Considering my very limited coding/game development skills, I went with the final idea – it seemed easy enough to do. My main interest for this game jam was to develop visual style and gain a little more general experience.
I got the absolute minimum done to get started – horizontal/vertical collision. I planned to base all art around multiples of 32px horizontally, so went with a 960*540px size for the game window. This way organising the artwork in the level would be easy – it would all fit together, and I could re-use assets throughout the game. Below, red represents the player; magenta represents collidable objects (walls/floor).
For the bedroom, I pretty much scribbled down into my notepad and stuck with it. It didn’t take me long to forget about the multiple of 32px rule I’d created – it just wasn’t convenient once I actually got started.
I followed the same process for all levels (minus sketches) – draw level at 25% of the final size in Photoshop, scale it up 400% using Nearest Neighbor Resampling to give it the sharp pixelated style. I then added the same Curves Adjustment Layer to each level, followed by the same vignette and noise layers. Finally, lighting was added as a 15% opacity white layer.
My plan was to have the bedroom, kitchen, outside level leading to the bus or a London underground station, leaving the bus/underground train, arriving at the hospital, then making the way up to the room that your wife is in. Unfortunately, when I finished the bus scene I barely had any time left – I just skipped straight to the ending. When I had friends and family testing the game shortly after completion, they were all pretty confused about skipping straight from the bus to the delivery room – I’d put this down to bad planning/time management.
The visual style was very much inspired by McPixel and Superbrothers’ Swords & Sworcery – definitely a game which has inspired me more than most. A lot of players said that it reminded them of McPixel however, which I can understand because of the style of gameplay. I dislike the crude style that McPixel has though – the refined and polished appearance that games like Sword & Sworcery carry is so pleasing.
My personal style for level design is very much undeveloped however – I’d like to experiment with it a bit more in future. As for the logistics behind my level design? There wasn’t any – I think that this is pretty clear when you play. It’s definitely an area that I’ll concentrate more on in future, and I’d like to do some research for it too – if there are any articles or books that you can point me towards, that would be fantastic.
I really wanted to get more characters into my game – I wanted the cat on the bed to do more, I wanted something in the kitchen, I wanted to absolutely fill the outside level. The world is very dead compared to what I wanted, but perhaps I was aiming a bit high in that aspect for a 72-hour development period. My main character followed the same style that I tend to illustrate characters by hand – pointed legs, small feet, quite square bodies and all that.
I wanted the protagonist to be ridiculous but loveable – he was all lazy, sleeping in with the sun shining through his window and he gradually reaches for his phone. Upon hearing the news/objective (wife’s in labour, get to the hospital), he springs into action with a superman-like pose – extremely committed when he has to be. Then he does this ridiculous little hop off of the bed, and moonwalks over to the wardrobe to get changed. The wardrobe had a lot of personality inside it which I wish I had time to spew over the room a little more. I quite like how held back it was too however – I think that the character spoke for himself.
What did surprise me was how the bus driver came out – in a mad rush coming towards the end of the jam, I figured I couldn’t get away with a driverless bus so I just scribbled him in there and I really like the way that he came out – it’s not my usual style of character at all.
Animating my world was one of my favourite parts of the development. I’ve never been too good at animating people, so I used a couple of references for that – for the moonwalking, where else would I look but the 1989 Sega game Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker?
The running animation was based off of a sequence that I found on Google Images. I didn’t animate the arm because I figured it would add to the goofy/cute character.
One of my favourite animations though had to be the toast-eating – no references were used for that one.
I was really disappointed with myself in this area – I really wanted to do a fantastic job with type, titles, and visual layout but didn’t really have the time. It’s something that I would really like to pay a lot of attention to in future since I think that it gets extremely neglected in a lot of modern games.
On Sunday morning – 24 hours in – I realised how much I had to do in such little time, so decided not to sleep until I had submitted the game. While this was a good decision (there’s no way the game would even be slightly completely if I’d decided against it), it certainly led to some bad decisions – such as the ending. On Monday morning with a mind that wasn’t fully functioning, I thought that it would be hilarious if you get to the hospital and your wife gives birth to a floating baby – just hanging like a helium balloon on a string ( /umbilical cord). I figured that the baby – having only just been born – had no concept of gravity, and so didn’t believe in gravity – he was a Newton Denialist, and upon cutting the cord you accidentally release him into low Earth orbit. I had this entire ending sequence laid out in my head with music and script and all (which I still think could have been good), but with the little time left I threw it together in a way which makes it make even less sense than it would have. Nevertheless, some people miraculously seem to like it!
What I’ve Learned
× I’ve pushed myself further with coding – getting an idea of how to make objects address each other’s variables mainly, and how to integrate coding/events into a sprite animation.
× I think that I’ve really developed my art-style – I never expected half of the levels, characters and animations to come out the way that they did.
× Ideas with a clear and active mind; draw and put things together when I’m tired – no more floating baby ideas.
× Time management – I relaxed way too much at the beginning – little progress was made Saturday. I spent a lot of time playing CS:GO with my brothers then spent 48 hours working non-stop which was exhausting.
× Many other things – it’s pretty difficult to name them consciously off of the top of my head.
Well I think that’s about it. I’m really happy with what I’ve achieved for my first game and my first Ludum Dare. I’ll try to take part in the next one in October(?) but I’ll be working on my final year of university then – will have to see.
Thanks for reading, please shoot advice at me if you like!